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10 Types Of Cutting Tools Used In CNC Machines: Comparison, Functioning And, More!

May 26, 2023

In today's modern world, you may have noticed Computer Numerical Control machines are taking the manufacturing industry by storm. They not only control a wide variety of complex machinery but also help in the production of different machine parts and prototypes. This means if you choose a CNC machine for fabricating your machine parts, your product will be produced in less time with less waste material and a minimum risk of human error. In short, a CNC machine efficiently enables you to get your desired high-quality three-dimensional product.

However, you may wonder what makes these machines so accurate and versatile. Well, you should consider two things here. First is their computerized nature, which makes them game-changing technology in terms of accuracy and efficiency. While the second is near-endless options for cutting tools. Now what are cutting tools? Let's explore them in this article. We have brought you deep research about different cutting tools used in CNC machines, how do they function, and where they can help you. So, let's get started!


What are Cutting Tools In CNC Machines?

Before we delve into the types of cutting tools used in CNC machines, you need to know what cutting tools exactly are. Remember, these tools are called cutting tools even though the procedure isn't named cutting in CNC. Rather we call it the milling procedure. Therefore, cutting tools are also called CNC milling cutters or CNC cutters.

Their function is to remove material from a solid block of material. In other words, they help you in the 3D cutting of a material by a shear deformation process. These sharp tools rotate at a very high speed that the material is cut into many small chips and ejected away from the workpiece. So, you get the required shape, dimensions, as well as size of the material.

 Cutting Tools In CNC Machines

Exploring 10 Important Cutting Tools Utilized in CNC Machines

Choosing the cutting tools is crucial if you want precise and efficient material removal. Different types of cutting tools available in the market help you design the geometry of your part more quickly and smoothly. So below are the most important 8 tools used in CNC machines. Let's start examining their functionality, application, and comparative analysis.


1. End Mills For Milling

End mills are a versatile type of cutting tool which provides you with capabilities beyond traditional drill bits. Unlike drill bits, end mills can cut directly into a material without needing a pre-drilled hole.

 End mills

How Do they Function?

One significant advantage of end mills is their suitability for vertical and lateral CNC machining. Their cutting teeth at one end and on the sides enable the removal of extra material in less time. In addition to it, they can be used for various operations, including milling, slotting, and contouring tasks. Moreover, you can utilize multiple flutes for efficiently removing material and getting different types of cuts and shapes according to your desired outcome.


Where Can They Be Used?

I. Flat End Mills are used for 2D features, such as flat-faced milling tasks.

II. With a ball-shaped end, you can create 3D contours and smooth curves.

III. Bull Nose End Mills are excellent for creating fillets and performing roughing operations.


2. Face Mills For Creating Flat Face

Face mills help you in the preparation process before carrying out primary milling operations. These specialized cutting tools create flat sections on your workpiece, enhancing versatility and efficiency in machining.


How Do they Function?

Face mills are particularly useful in the initial stages of your machining. Therefore, the main function of face mills is to produce flat surfaces on workpieces. You can remove large-scale material within a few hours with their multiple cutting edges. Moreover, it can create grooves as well as form square shoulders.


Where Can They Be Used?

For instance, face mills in the automotive industry are utilized to create flat mating surfaces where various components - such as cylinder heads - can be securely attached.


3. Slab mills For Milling Broad Surfaces

Also known as slab cutters or plain mills, slab mills are specifically designed for heavy-duty surface flatting operations. Remember, it is very important to position the workpiece surface parallel to the CNC mill table. That's why you need a slab mill to mill flat surfaces and let it fit on a CNC mill table.

 slab mills

How Do they Function?

These tools excel at rapidly machining large surfaces, making them valuable for cutting tasks. Unlike other cutters, slab mills typically have teeth only on their periphery, which help you create wide and narrow cuts with high speed and precision. As the slab itself rotates horizontally between the spindle and the support, it facilitates smooth, uniform, and controlled cutting.


Where Can They Be Used?

Slab mills are used in the manufacturing of large metal plates or tabletops. Made up of high-speed steel, they are truly effective in creating wide cuts for grooves or slots in various metals.


4. Drill Bits For Making Holes

Drill bits are one of the essential tools used in CNC machines for creating holes in workpieces. They consist of a shaft with two cutting spirals that culminate in a conical cutting tip. The cutting tip typically has an angle of 120°, while the helical grooves aid in expelling chips from the drilled hole.


How Do they Function?

CNC machining drill bits primarily come in three types: centre drill, twist drill, and ejector drill. Each type serves a distinct purpose in the drilling process.

I. Centre drill bits are used to mark small spots on the workpiece precisely. You can use them for spot drilling, ensuring accuracy and proper alignment.

II. Twist drills are needed if you want to create holes of various sizes in the workpiece. They can be used in a wide range of hole-making applications, such as clearance holes, threaded holes, press fits, and locating holes.

III. Ejector drills use their two flutes and sharp cutting edges to dig deep holes in your working part. Usually, they facilitate efficient chip evacuation and high-quality finishes.


Where Can They Be Used?

I. Centre drill bits find their application in scenarios where precise hole placement is necessary, such as aerospace and automotive.

II. Twist drills are the go-to choice for general-purpose hole drilling in various materials, including metal manufacturing, construction, and woodworking.

III. Ejector drills are used in industries like oil and gas, aerospace, and mould-making, where deep-hole drilling is required.


5. Gear Cutters For Creating Gear

Another important cutting tool used in CNC machines is the gear cutter. They come in a variety of shapes (spur, bevel, worm, screw, and helical gears) and serve a wide range of production gear types. Furthermore, these cutting tools facilitate the production of gears that exhibit smooth operation, precise meshing, and high load-bearing capacity.

 gear cutter

How Do they Function?

Gear cutters are specifically designed to shape gears with precision and efficiency. They serve various cutting techniques - such as grinding, skiving, and hobbing - to remove material and create gear teeth profiles. Particularly, the hobbing process is widely utilized for the high-volume production of gears with excellent accuracy and surface finish.


Where Can They Be Used?

Gear cutters can be used to produce gears for aircraft engines and landing gear systems. Moreover, you may have seen their application in the automotive manufacturing or aerospace industry - where they are used in transmissions, differentials, and powertrain systems.


6. Fly Cutters For Single-point Cutting

Last but not least, fly cutters are also versatile single-point rotary tools used in CNC machines. They are used to achieve broad or shallow cuts while producing a smooth surface finish.


How Do they Function?

Fly cutters consist of a tool body and cutting bits, usually one or two. They are designed to make shallow or broad cuts on workpieces. The most significant advantage of using a fly cutter with two cutting bits is you can cover a larger section of your workpiece. Moreover, this tool is specifically beneficial when you want quickly flatten and smoothen rough surfaces.


Where Can They Be Used?

Fly cutters are suitable for cutting tasks where achieving a superior surface finish is paramount. For instance, they are usually used to re-shaping large amounts of metal by straightforward grinding in metalworking projects.


7. Hollow Mills For Creating Pre-Thread Diameter 

Hollow mills work quite the opposite of face mills in CNC machines. These pipe-shaped cutting tools have cutting edges that cut the workpiece into a cylindrical outcome.


How Do they Function?

Hollow mills can be like inverted end mills. They possess three or more cutting edges encircle and revolve around a cylindrical workpiece. This means you can create pre-thread diameters quickly and efficiently. However, you should always check its feed rate and rotational speed to achieve precise and uniform cuts. In addition, with its anterior cutting edges, you can perform material removal, shape curve surfaces, and do accurate contouring with this excellent cutting tool.


Where Can They Be Used?

An ideal scenario for employing hollow mills is in drill press work for finishing a projection and creating radii. For instance, if you require manufacturing mechanical components with specific alignment, hollow mills can be the best choice.

Additionally, hollow mills can help you generate full points in many industries, such as woodworking, metalworking, and even art crafting.


8. Thread Mills For Cutting Internal Threads

Thread mills are another essential tool used in CNC machines specifically designed for cutting threads. Unlike many other thread cutting tools which only cuts internal threads, this versatile tool can help you with both internal and external cutting.

 Thread Mills

How Do they Function?

You should know threading process involves a combination of cutting and forming operations through circular movement. The cutting produces a helical groove - the thread - with a specific shape for accommodating a screw or bolt.

You can use thread mills in various cutting operations, particularly in penetrating hard metals or when you are working with asymmetrical parts. Their ability to cut both internal and external threads offers you great flexibility in machining tasks. And that's why it is a super helpful tool in CNC machining.


Where Can They Be Used?

1. Thread mills find applications in the automotive industry, where they create threads in engine components, transmission parts, and suspension systems.

2. In aerospace manufacturing, thread mills play a crucial role in producing threads for aircraft engine components, structural elements, and fasteners.

3. You can confidently employ thread mills in the oil and gas sector for threading pipes, connectors, and valves used in drilling and extraction operations.

4. Thread mills can be used to produce medical devices, such as orthopedic implants, where you need precise threading for proper functioning.


9. Reamers For Creating Holes

A reamer is a unique CNC cutting tool that you can use to create precise and smooth holes. It is usually designed to enlarge and refine pre-existing holes in metal, wood, and other materials.


How Do they Function?

Typically, reamers have multiple cutting edges and a tapered or straight shank which makes them helpful in performing a variety of tasks. For instance, you can use reamers to

· remove a small amount of material from the walls of a pre-drilled or pre-bored hole

· create a smooth surface finish of desired shape and size

· eliminate the roundness, burrs, irregularities, and straightness of the hole.


Where Can They Be Used?

Reamers are widely used in CNC machining, manufacturing, and fabrication industries. Many industries, such as automotive, aerospace, oil and gas, and general engineering, use them to create highly precise holes for bushings or bearing fits.


10. Slitting Saws For Making Narrow Cuts

A slitting saw - also called a slotting saw - is used in CNC machines for making narrow cuts or slots in various materials. It is generally a thin, disc-shaped tool that can cut your workpieces' slots, grooves, or channels.

 Slitting Saws

How Do they Function?

Slitting saws have a cylindrical or disc-shaped design with teeth around the circumference. That's why they are highly specialized in making narrow cuts, such as slots, keyways, or even splines. Moreover, these saws have a thin kerf (width of the cut), allowing you to remove material effectively and minimize waste.


Where Can They Be Used?

You can find slitting saws applications in various industries, including manufacturing, metalworking, woodworking, and fabrication. For example, in the manufacturing industry, they are used for creating keyways in shafts and cutting grooves for O-rings or snap rings.


Final Thoughts

No doubt, cutting tools form the backbone of any professional CNC machine project. They help you achieve greater productivity, high precision, accuracy, and efficiency in different cutting operations, giving you high-quality, well-finished, and smooth products with exceptional results.  

However, choosing the best tools for your CNC machining operation can be a challenging task for you. Buying so many cutting tools for your CNC machine won't be productive. Therefore, you need to think critically about the design of your part along with an in-depth understanding of the different functions of the tools. By incorporating both strategies with proper planning, you can reduce the number of tools, the cost of your project, and time.


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